Child’s Play

imageIt’s the Easter holidays,and we’re  welcoming  more young chocolate fans into our shop than usual.  Chocolate is one of those things, a bit like Christmas and theme parks, that brings out the big kid in everyone. Some types are more ‘sophisticated’ and tailored to adult taste buds than others. But generally rich, creamy, sometimes colourful chocolate is the stuff of dreams for small and big kids alike. (Just ask Charlie Bucket, the hero of Willie Wonka!)

Sweet dreams are made of these…

As well as wanting to sample all of the delicious treats in our shop, most of our young Chocolat Chocolat fans are particularly fascinated by the chocolate-making process, and are in awe of our chief chocolatier Isabelle’s job. Isabelle admits it’s a dream come true to be making chocolate for a living, an ambition that was born from her childhood in France where there are numerous beautiful boutique chocolate shops.

imageExperiencing such sweet inspiration as a child meant that Isabelle’s career was almost inevitable, but after meeting numerous fanatical young chocolatiers-in-the-making in our shop on a regular basis, we have to say we were a bit taken a back to hear that a recent survey on our childhood ‘dream jobs’ didn’t feature ‘chief chocolatier’ at number 1! (The study actually revealed that the majority of men dreamed of being professional athletes or pilots, whereas women wanted to be teachers or vets. Had these people never seen Willy Wonka??)

Come say hello!


In Cambridge at least, we expect chocolate making to be much higher on the list of dream careers! If you know any aspiring young chocolatiers, we’d love to meet them, so make visiting our shop on St Andrews Street part of your Easter holiday to-do list. For special occasions or simply an afternoon of pure chocolate heaven, we also run children’s chocolate courses every weekend. The courses are perfect for mini chocolate lovers and budding junior chocolatiers, providing them with the opportunity to make their own chocolate lollies, truffles and much more!

Did you ever dream of making chocolate as a kid? Or perhaps your own kids are chocolate-mad? Get in touch and tell us about it!

Top Tips for Easter Weekend – Valuably Virtuous or Deliciously Decadent?

 

Blog1It’s Easter this weekend, and we’re egg-xeptionally egg-cited! (Groan.) What is there not to love about this egg-cellent (sorry) holiday, which involves lots of chocolate and an egg-tra-long weekend?

We expect to be rushed off our feet in the shop next Friday and Saturday as last-minute gift-buyers swoop to get their hands on what’s left of our Easter goodies.

We’re only closed Easter Sunday though, and so far have yet to decide how to spend that delectable day off.  To some extent, we expect to be guided by the British weather (to read about our weather obsession, check out last week’s blog!) but being busy people, it feels like there are 1001 things we could see or do in those glorious holiday hours in order to make the most of them.  However, we’re torn…

Our ideas for the holiday fall firmly into one of two camps:  the Valuably Virtuous and the Deliciously Decadent. To explain, the former involves using our time wisely to get our ducks – or Easter chicks? – in a row and do some of the things we just never have time to do.  The latter involves metaphorically screwing up our personal ‘to do’ lists and doing whatever we feel like. To give you some inspiration, here are some ideas for how to spend your Easter break. Which camp you fall into is entirely up to you!

Blog 2Valuably Virtuous

  1. Get all greenfingered – this time of year can be perfect for starting a veggie patch or just clearing out the garden and the ravages of winter, before the warmer weather (hopefully!) kicks in
  2. Spring clean your wardrobe. If the temperatures finally start to rise, make sure your summer gear isn’t hidden under a pile of woolly jumpers
  3. Cook a roast dinner and invite friends and family you’ve been meaning to catch up with for ages

Deliciously DecadentBlog3

  1. Take the family and an indulgent picnic somewhere green and gorgeous – we love The Backs by the River Cam
  2. Leave the wardrobe sorting for another day…but that’s not to say you can’t boost existing stocks with a wander around the shops (what’s the changing season for if not an excuse to buy something new?!)
  3. Leave the oven off and catch up with friends and family at a lovely local restaurant – if you’re in the Cambridge area, Cotto, The Oak Bistro, or even Alimentum are definitely worth a visit

What are your plans for the Easter weekend? Let us know whether you’re planning to be Valuably Virtuous or Deliciously Decadent!

Why spring can wait!

Spring1We don’t know about you, but it seems we have spent the last six months mummified in thermal undergarments and knitwear (and under fleecy blankets and positioned next to the fire, when we don’t have to leave the house). Permanently shivering, despite our sensible clothing, and with chattering teeth, that have nothing to do with making conversation and everything to do with the fact that it feels like it’s been minus ten for the last ten years.

More to the point, though, we’re STILL shivering, even now as we hit mid-March. Everyone is even more obsessed with the British weather than usual, and many have taken to reminiscing longingly about that one freak week of abnormally mild weather that occurred this very time in 2012. Remember that? Winter coats and snow boots were cast aside for shorts and flip flops overnight, and we got a bit carried away, daydreaming excitedly about long summer nights and seaside getaways with the rose-tinted perspective of the seriously Vitamin-D-deprived. It lasted about a week, if we recall correctly. For our March heatwave was nothing but a flash-in-the-pan, a cruel fluke of a weather front that set us all up for a big fall when spring and summer 2012 simply failed to materialise. Jump forward a year to March 2013, where we (along with the thermometer’s mercury position) couldn’t be in a more different place.

Spring2You see, while everyone is bemoaning the frost and snow and hail for long outstaying its welcome, we realised this week that we will be quite sad to see the back of winter. We completely understand that de-icing windscreens, waiting for boiler repair people and seeing virtually no daylight for weeks on end isn’t always fun. But what is fun is how winter seems to gives us licence to indulge in chocolate, whatever the time of day! Well strictly speaking, we never need licence to enjoy our favourite treat, but eating chocolate somehow seems even more essential in winter, as just a little chunk can melt away the seasonal blues faster than you can say ‘the Caribbean’. Plus, if you’re anything like us in freezing temperatures, your next hot drink is never far away. And you can’t have a hot drink without a chocolate accompaniment, can you? Unless of course, chocolate is the hot Spring3drink! Since we opened Chocolat Chocolat, our hot chocolate has been a firm customer favourite, with people travelling for miles for their warming chocolate fix. It’s definitely best enjoyed when conditions are somewhat frosty. Summer (which we can’t even imagine right now), on the other hand, is the time when our mouth-wateringly moreish ice cream comes into its own. For now though, we’re more than happy to have a(nother) cup of the hot stuff and wait that little bit longer for spring’s arrival.

Tell us what you think about the barmy (not balmy) British weather! Are you happy to keep warm with hot chocolate and thermals, or are you eager to get stuck into summer?

A Return to Tradition for Mum?

Mday1Don’t forget that it’s Mother’s Day this coming Sunday (March 10th)! If your mum is anything like the mums we know, asking her if there’s anything she’d like as a gift will only be met with a universal mum-style response: “don’t be silly/you don’t need to make a fuss/I have everything I need!” And while we’re sure the world over that most mums DO actually mean these things, we still wouldn’t dream of taking mum at her word and turning up empty-handed to Mother’s Day lunch!

Mday2So what to give the lady who may not have everything, but who certainly wouldn’t allow you to spend all of your hard-earned wages on her (and would never forgiver herself if you did)? Research last year on Mother’s Day gift-buying habits showed a return to ‘traditional’ gifts of flowers and chocolate, following the previous year when apparently we all went a bit mad and bought computers and Kindles and smartphones for mum. We’re a little sceptical. If that was the case, we imagine mums around the country spent Mother’s Day 2011 alternately chastising their offspring for spending too much money on them and scratching their heads as they tried to get to grips with their new piece of technology.

Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday?

The origins of ‘Mother’s Day’, in the UK at least, could not be further from a day celebrated with gifts of e-readers and iPhones.  Mother’s Day in the UK is actually derived from ‘Mothering Sunday’, when as far back as the 16th century people returned to their ‘mother church’ (the main church in the area) for a service on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, usually with their mums and families. Children would often gift mums with wild flowers they’d picked on the way to church, evolving into the tradition of giving gifts on ‘Mothering Sunday’. This is when ‘Mothering Sunday’ first became linked to the giving of sweet treats too. It wasn’t chocolate in those days though; rather “Mothering Buns” or “Mothering Sunday Buns” (sweet buns topped with pink or white icing) were made to celebrate.

In the early 20th century, a different ‘Mother’s Day’ was created in the US and held in May, which became a commercial celebration of mums and maternal figures.  In the UK, the two holidays are now entwined, with the gift-giving celebration of ‘Mother’s Day’ always held on the same day as the older, religious date of ‘Mothering Sunday’.  In Chocolat Chocolat’s ‘Motherland’ of France, Mother’s Day or ‘Fête des Mères’ is celebrated on the last Sunday in May (before the 1940s, it was only a celebration of mums with large families – imagine that!)

 

Mday3Tradition over Technology!

Whatever its origins and whenever it is held, a day that recognises our mums and all they do for us can only be a good thing in our opinion.  In the spirit of tradition though, we’re sticking with sweet gifts, as we’re pretty sure she would prefer a scrumptious selection of Chocolat Chocolat treats over a new high-tech ‘tablet’ or gadget – on Mother’s Day or any day! What have you got planned for your mum this Sunday? If you’re still undecided, don’t forget to check out our selection of gorgeous gifts!

Chocolate and chips? How un-savoury!

Blog SavouryAt Chocolat Chocolat, we love hearing stories from our customers about their quirky chocolate-eating behaviours and rituals. For example, we know a customer who just cannot make it through any day without five (never more, never less) of our white chocolate buttons, enjoyed at 8:30pm every evening on the sofa with a cup of Earl Grey.  And another Chocolat Chocolat fan who simply has to have some of our Caramel and Sea Salt whenever she’s in Cambridge. Whichever way you like to enjoy your chocolate is completely fine by us, and it’s always interesting to hear of different chocolate and drink combinations (perhaps there’s another blog post in that!) and when, where and how people like to eat our favourite foodstuff. However, even we were startled to hear of a recent consumer poll, Blog Sav 2which claimed that a growing number of Brits are choosing to consume chocolate in an altogether different way, creating a new taste sensation by (wait for it)…melting chocolate over their chips! Hmmmm. We’ve yet to try it ourselves so cannot pass judgement – but let’s just say it’s not necessarily a delicacy we’re in a rush to replicate for our next dinner party! The story did make us start thinking though, about how chocolate has historically been used as a savoury food ingredient with potentially more palatable results than French fries avec chocolat…

 

Olé for Mole!

Blog Sav 3If, like us, you’re a fan of the film Chocolat, you’ll recall how Juliette Binoche’s character Vianne knocks the socks off birthday party guests with a roast chicken in chocolate sauce, which is devoured in stunned silence by those lucky enough to be tucking in. Dark chocolate can be added to garlic, onion, tomato sauce, chilli and spices to make a fantastic barbecue sauce for chicken and indeed all types of meat. The sauce – and variations on it – is known as mole (pronounced mole-ay), which originated in Mexico early in the colonial period. Legend has it that upon hearing that an archbishop was going to visit, convent nuns in the state of Puebla went into a panic because they had nothing to feed him.  After bringing together what they did have, chilli peppers, spices, day-old bread, nuts, and chocolate, they killed and cooked an old turkey and smothered it in the sauce they’d made from the thrown-together ingredients. The archbishop loved it and mole has been enjoyed ever since as one of the most respected ceremonial dishes in Mexico.

A subtle touch

It’s worth pointing out that, unlike the chocolate and chips combo we mentioned at the start, mole and dark chocolate in most cooked dishes provides a subtle silkiness, rather than the strong cocoa taste that you’d expect from your favourite chocolate bar. Which we think is much easier on the palate!

We’d love to know your thoughts on savoury chocolate combinations. Have you tried chocolate with chips? Do any other savoury chocolate dishes hit the spot for you, or do they get your tastebuds in a twist? 

Chocolate: Spreading the Love Beyond Valentine’s Day!

heartsSo Valentine’s Day is over for another year. “Hurrah!” say the hardened cynics. “Booooo!” say the hopeless romantics. Here at Chocolat Chocolat, we fall resolutely into the latter category. Yes, the run up to Valentine’s Day is one of our busiest times of year, but our love for February 14th has more to do with us being such a soppy old bunch than because it’s good for sales (we like that too though!) In the shop, there’s definitely a lift in mood as customers collectively think about the perfect chocolaty gift for their beloved. And who doesn’t love receiving a delicious chocolate treat as a token of affection?

But with the date now behind us, heart-shaped balloons around the country rapidly deflating and chocolate gifts devoured long ago, we started thinking about how the world could be a more loving place with more chocolate in it – not just on Valentine’s Day, but all year round! Here are just a few reasons why:

Chocolate is rumoured to be an aphrodisiac

AztecAs far back as the 13th century, the Aztecs made the link between the cocoa bean and desire, with emperors said to consume the bean in large amounts before romantic liaisons! The Aztec version of chocolate wasn’t refined in the same way as modern day recipes; a 21st century chocolate lover would have found it bitter and astringent, with a hint of white vinegar and drying to the mouth (may we cheekily suggest that it could not have been conducive to kissing then?!) These days, chocolate-making processes have been fine-tuned (thankfully), and scientists are more cautious in their claims about chocolate’s aphrodisiac potential, but there are two chemicals in it which links consumption to feeling ‘amorous’. Chocolate contains both tryptophan, a component of the chemical serotonin that creates feelings of wellbeing, and phenylethylamine, which is released in the brain when people fall in love. However, many studies have shown that amounts in chocolate are too small to have any measurable effect, and that any feelings of wellbeing produced after eating it are probably psychological. Who cares whether it’s real or imagined? We love that chocolate makes us feel love!

Chocolate can re-energise you

Even if its aphrodisiac qualities are somewhat unfounded, chocolate is high in energy-boosting chemicals including theobromine, magnesium and chromium, which all play a role in energy production. So having a few squares of the dark stuff at work in an afternoon means you’ll get home with plenty of energy and attention to lavish on your beloved!

Giving chocolate as a gift will make you feel good!

chocs‘It’s better to give than receive’ – we’ve all heard that before, and while we completely understand that chocolate lovers might find this one hard to believe, numerous studies over the years have proven the benefits of giving gifts to others on our mental and emotional wellbeing. Plus here’s a valuable fact for all the ladies out there: 70% of chocolate is bought for or by a woman, so we think your man will love you forever if you surprise him with a truffle or two! And surely this gives you extra brownie points and therefore carte blanche to share the sweet treat you’ve so thoughtfully bestowed? They’re our rules anyway, and we’re sticking to them!

 

What do you think? Has being given chocolates from an admirer ever won you over? Or are you a big romantic who lavishes the gift of chocolate on your other half all year round?

Our Favourite Chocolate Books and Films

We don’t know any other food that gets people as excited as chocolate, every Saturday we hear a customer say on entering the shop something along the lines of:romantic-movie-chocolat_thumb

“Just like the shop in the film Chocolat”, or “It’s like a real Willy Wonka shop!”

It really makes us smile as we used to live in the next village, just outside Paris, to Johnny Depp, who starred in both films.  We even shopped at the same supermarket as his wife, but despite our best efforts we never bumped into the famous couple.

charlie_and_the_chocolate_factory__2005__johnny_depp__freddie_highmore

Recently, we were talking with a customer about not meeting Johnny, when we realised that we had also lived near our favourite chocolatey author, Road Dahl, when we lived close to Aylesbury.

That got us thinking about what our favourite chocolate-based books were, and it’s no surprise that that there only two books that make our chocolate lovers shortlist:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlCharlie

Written in 1964 this classic novel is such a beloved story that it’s been made into a film twice, and later this year into a West End musical.

Roald Dahl’s love of chocolate, possibly stems from Cadbury using his school for market research and to test new products; they sent samples to the pupils so that they could get feedback from the eager pupils.

We don’t know of any school that does this anymore so it’s no good trying to find one for your children, but perhaps you might want to go to see the musical instead.

Chocolat-bookChocolat by Joanne Harris

Chocolat was first a best selling book written in 1999 and then into a film in 2000.  It’s the story of young, single mother, played by Juilette Binoche, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church at the beginning of Lent.  Initially met with opposition, the shop proceeds to gently change the lives of the villagers who visit her chocolaterie with a combination of sympathy, subversion and a little magic.  An amazing story that is testimony to the magic of chocolat!

It’s a short list, but we hope you agree that each book and film has it’s charms.  Perfect for snuggling up with on a cold, wet weekend with a few chocolate buttons to make you feel that you are really part of the story.

Finally, we often get asked which of the two Willy Wonka films we prefer, for the moment that’s a secret, but which is yours?